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Entertainment Tonight's Interview with QOTD Director, Michael Rymer


ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: Did you know Aaliyah before shooting began?

MICHAEL RYMER: We spent a lot of time together before I cast her. I actually put her through the ringer before I gave her the part.


ET: Were you a little nervous about casting a singer who's trying to be an actress?

MICHAEL: Well, I knew she'd already done a movie ['Romeo Must Die'], but that was a fairly naturalistic story, and she was playing a young urban woman. In this she had to play a 4,000-year-old Egyptian vampire -- the most evil, powerful creature on the earth. That's quite a stretch, since she was a 21-year-old very sweet young girl.


ET: So what kind of hoops did you make her jump through?

MICHAEL: She went through about three major screentests. I gave her the hardest scene I could think of and had her work with an acting coach and a dialect coach. She also practiced taking on animal motions.


She was a natural, particularly in the physical stuff. She had such a natural grace. The tricky part was to get her to feel entitled enough to want to cause great havoc and to have it be believable.


ET: Now, what you just described was all in the casting process. She hadn't even gotten the role yet, so she must have wanted it real bad!

MICHAEL: Well, she was so focused that she was never going to get reactive, and her ego wasn't going to rise up and say, "I'm a diva; I shouldn't have to go through this."


Whatever obstacles you put in her way, she went, "OK, I'll try to get over that." Or, "Oh, I didn't do good? OK, I'll work on it more." Never annoyed, never impatient. She was a great role model for young people.


ET: I've only seen the trailer, but I could see how involved the makeup, the stunts and the special effects must have been. How much of a hard worker was she?

MICHAEL: She was the paradigm of the ego-less, disciplined worker. She was like a machine to direct. You would give her a note and she would execute it with great precision. I think that comes from her training as a singer and a performer -- she could just nail the action that you were asking her to perform.


A lot of it had to do with patience. She was in these very uncomfortable harnesses; she was half-naked in the Melbourne, Australia, winter; she had to work on her dialect, work on her physical movement. We worked very hard on trying to give her a physicality that was otherworldly, non-human and very powerful.


I had raised the issue with ANNE RICE quite early, that a 4,000-year-old Egyptian queen ought to be a person of color. Anne said, "Hmmm ... well, yeah." And she kind of got her head around that.


Some of her fans are a little more fundamentalist about it and want to see a pale-skinned vampire, but everyone who sees the film is blown away by Aaliyah.


ET: So she had a great attitude.

MICHAEL: She had a great attitude, but she was sort of princess-like. She had a grace that affected people. She was very kind and would just give a lot of genuine love to everyone. She had a sweet, gentle, childlike quality, and yet she was sort of sexy and flirty. She was sort of young, and yet she seemed very old. She was a special soul.


ET: Did she make your job easier?

MICHAEL: Oh, yeah, she was very easy to work with! She sat in Australia for three months waiting to do her bit. Melbourne is a long way from New York, but she had her family. Her mother, DIANE (HAUGHTON), and her brother, RASHAD, were with her through all the rehearsals -- they traveled with her and rented a house.


Most of the other cast was out playing at night, and she was a homebody who would just take it quietly. She was always a good energy to have around, and this was a fairly chaotic big production.


ET: I've only seen the trailer, but I could see how involved the makeup, the stunts and the special effects must have been. How much of a hard worker was she?

MICHAEL: She was the paradigm of the ego-less, disciplined worker. She was like a machine to direct. You would give her a note and she would execute it with great precision. I think that comes from her training as a singer and a performer -- she could just nail the action that you were asking her to perform.


A lot of it had to do with patience. She was in these very uncomfortable harnesses; she was half-naked in the Melbourne, Australia, winter; she had to work on her dialect, work on her physical movement. We worked very hard on trying to give her a physicality that was otherworldly, non-human and very powerful.


I had raised the issue with ANNE RICE quite early, that a 4,000-year-old Egyptian queen ought to be a person of color. Anne said, "Hmmm ... well, yeah." And she kind of got her head around that.


Some of her fans are a little more fundamentalist about it and want to see a pale-skinned vampire, but everyone who sees the film is blown away by Aaliyah.


ET: So she had a great attitude.

MICHAEL: She had a great attitude, but she was sort of princess-like. She had a grace that affected people. She was very kind and would just give a lot of genuine love to everyone. She had a sweet, gentle, childlike quality, and yet she was sort of sexy and flirty. She was sort of young, and yet she seemed very old. She was a special soul.


ET: Did she make your job easier?

MICHAEL: Oh, yeah, she was very easy to work with! She sat in Australia for three months waiting to do her bit. Melbourne is a long way from New York, but she had her family. Her mother, DIANE (HAUGHTON), and her brother, RASHAD, were with her through all the rehearsals -- they traveled with her and rented a house.


Most of the other cast was out playing at night, and she was a homebody who would just take it quietly. She was always a good energy to have around, and this was a fairly chaotic big production.


ET: She was a singer trying to cross over. What kind of potential did you see in her as an actress?

MICHAEL: That's the most bittersweet thing about this whole business. Every time we show the film, people are so taken with Aaliyah's talent and her presence! It's great, but at the same time it's saddening. There was no doubt that Aaliyah was ascending -- that's why her passing was so surprising!

I mean, she had me convinced; she was so clear about what she wanted. She wanted to be an actor and an R&B star. She wanted to appeal to the broadest possible audience. There was no limit to what she saw herself doing. She knew she was going to get there, and she had the talent to back it up.


So when she passed, I was taken by surprise. It took us all a long time to recover. We were editing the film and trying to cope with that loss and feeling so terrible for her family.


But what drove us all forward, family and crew, was that we knew what she wanted. She wanted this film to really work and wanted her performance to be as good as it could be -- to have her participation really shine. That kept us going.


ET: Can you put into words your reaction when you found out she had died?

MICHAEL: Well, my reaction was very complicated. The first reaction was shock. I kept watching the news waiting to hear that there had been a mistake, that she was OK, and the reports had been exaggerated or false. It took a couple of days to even process it.


At that time I was being philosophical, saying to myself that she had a very rich and rewarding life while she was alive. She made her own dreams come true, and her life was something to celebrate. Obviously, it was her time, and that's what happens in life. She went with a group of people who she loved, and they were very connected.


Then you go through sort of the process of letting it sink in, and you get a little angry. I said in my mind, "This isn't what you told me was going to happen!" I felt terrible, mainly for her family, because they were one of the closest families I'd ever seen. There is no easy answer for such a profound loss. These four people -- mother, father, son and daughter -- were part of the same person.


ET: How close were you?

MICHAEL: When you're making a film, the relationship is incredibly intense and personal in the moment, and then sometimes you don't see that person for years. I wouldn't say I am in the inner circle of the Haughton family, but through our work we had a very close bond.


ET: What effect has her passing had on your post-production?

MICHAEL: We had everything shot; we didn't need to shoot anything else with Aaliyah. Before the crash, though, she was on her way to L.A. to do what's called looping (recording a clean version of the dialogue).


When she passed, we didn't have that option anymore. To give her voice a little more clarity and body, I actually asked Rashad, her brother, to do a recording where he whispers the exact same dialogue as she -- it just adds a little clarity and consonance. It just made it much more sad for us. The film has gained a resonance as a consequence of it, I think. I don't think anyone can not think of her when watching it.


ET: From your perspective, how do you think she'll be remembered?

MICHAEL: Well, a friend of mine, an African-American costume designer, called me after it happened, very upset, and said, "You know, in our community, she was PRINCESS DI." I don't think the larger American culture understood how much she was loved and admired. I think they understand more now, and I think a lot of people have discovered Aaliyah's music now, which is great. Fortunately, she leaves behind a very quality legacy of work.

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